Illustration Before/After with Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator Creativity Pattern Before/After

I created this illustration for the March Flourish membership challenge using hydrangeas from my backyard.

I decided to use this challenge to stretch out of my comfort zone and try different approaches for vectorizing and coloring in Adobe Illustrator. 

I first made pencil drawings of the hydrangea flower petals. Then, I used 4 different approaches to get the work into Illustrator:

  • In #1, below, I scanned the pencil drawing, locked it, and traced over it using the Pencil tool.
  • With #2, I traced over my pencil drawing using a fine tip black marker, scanned the ink drawing, and used Image Trace to turn it into vectors. In Image Trace, I checked "Ignore White," used the Black & White Logo setting, and left the defaults for Threshold, Paths, and Corners.
  • For #3, I used Image Trace to turn my scanned pencil drawing into vectors. In Image Trace, I set Noise to "low," checked "Ignore White," used Black & White Logo, and increased Threshold, Paths, and Corners.
  • For #4, I took my scanned pencil drawing, locked it, and traced over it using the Blob Brush Tool. Since this added color to the illustration right away, I went ahead and filled the shapes with color using the Shape Builder Tool. I also adjusted the top-to-bottom order of stems and petals. Illustrations #4 and #5 are identical except #4 has outlined petals, and #5 doesn't.
Here are the approaches side-by-side so you can see how the results differ:

Hydrangea drawing and coloring comparisons

After arranging the petals into hydrangeas, here's how I colored each of the above illustrations:

  • For #1, I used a combination of the Blob Brush Tool (for open shapes) and Shape Builder Tool. I used "Draw Behind" and let the color spill outside of the lines.
  • For #2, I cleaned up the edges using the Direct Selection Tool, Smooth, and Eraser. Then I colored it using the Shape Builder Tool and added detail with the Eraser.
  • I colored #3 using circles I painted in watercolor. I scanned, vectorized, and recolored the painted circles, then placed them into the petal shapes individually. 
  • I colored #4's and 5 using the Shape Builder Tool. I added an outline to #4 to match #'s 1, 2, and 3.

To add detail to the petals, I scanned, vectorized, and recolored small watercolor motifs. I layered these over the petals in some of the illustrations; here are the motifs before and after recoloring:

Watercolor motifs

Finally, I recolored the petals so that the flowers are properly shaded dark-to-light. I decided that I prefer illustration #5, the one I traced using the Blob Brush Tool (and without the petals outlined). I used the Recolor Artwork Tool to try color combinations from several of my own palettes:

 Hydrangea_brown  Hydrangea_blue  Hydrangea_lavender  Hydrangea_dark_blue  Hydrangea_purple  Hydrangea_multi

Last but not least, here's the final illustration that I submitted for the challenge:

Final illustration of hydrangeas

What's your favorite way to get your art into Illustrator and color it?


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  • Anne on

    Hi Steph, thanks so much for your comment! I highly recommend Shape Builder, I use it all the time. Also, you don’t have to Expand when you use Shape Builder, which is nice. Good luck with your patterns :)

  • steph z on

    super cool! I have yet to figure out the shape builder tool. Must try!


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